tv [untitled] June 1, 2011 5:30pm-6:00pm PDT
tony serra, and tony serra is the most prolific trial lawyer of our times. he's tried more cases than any other living lawyer. if you ever had a chance to see him in court, it's just a sight to behold. it really is. we're so grateful that he could be here today. he's trying a triple homicide case right now in oakland. he has a jury out waiting. you may get called away but we're hope you're able to stay for the panel. finally, we have sheldon siegel. and sheldon siegel is a corporate lawyer who has written a series -- i think seven books now, a fictional criminal defense attorney named mike daley who actually lives
here in san francisco. and he's written a series of books and these becomes have been shown and transcribed and read throughout the world. so we're going to start now with a clip, a video clip and then we're going to go to the panel. >> i think it is our national novel. if there was a national novel of week, this would be it for the united states. i think it's the favorite book
of almost everybody you meet. >> the first time in my life that the book had sort of captured me. that was exciting. i didn't realize that literature could do that. >> i remember reading a copy of my aunt's in jamaica queens. it was the first book ever written by a white writer that discussed racism in ways that was complicate and sophisticated. -- complicated and sophisticated. >> a touchstone in american literary and social history. it's a story gently tugged at the issues of racism. >> she was a champion of people who helped us get liberated from racism in this country. >> harper lee's first and only novel. >> a masterpiece is masterpieces not because they're flawless but because they tap into something essential to us, at the heart of who we are and how --
>> a masterpiece and a mystery. >> of course, one kept hoping and waiting for the next novel. sadly, that never came. >> i cannot imagine what drove harper to silence. >> thank you. i prefer to pass. >> what did you say? >> well, i have nothing relevant to say concerning the case. however, when i have something relevant to say i shall raise my hand. >> stepped on you.
>> scout, that's the most intelligent thing you have said today. now, take your seat. >> the greatest counterculture lawyer of all-time. his trials have garnered him acclaim as one of the greatest criminal defense lawyers of all century. he's the white tornado in court, the semantic samurai, a shaman, a trickster by others, "lush for justice "by tony serra is a no holds bar
description of a man, his belief and the legal system he serves and transforms. filled with murder, drugs and death penalty cases, snitches, the psychological elements of crime, the nullification of and nexus with juries, closing arguments and more. "lust for justice" gets the black robe off the justice system to review what it is, a railroad for prison for minorities. author, artist, paulette frankl followed tony serra in and out of the courtroom for more than a decade to capture in words and images this man who embodies justice and drama at their best. in "lust for justice" you view the law of one of the greatest practitioners and you'll never look at it the same way again.
>> the oldest man on death row is eyeing me from his wheelchair. despite his frail appearance, his baratone is still forceful. walking to the row, mr. daley. he says to me. we need your help. we're running out of time, over 850 inmates is awaiting for lethal injection in california. every one of them is running out of time. thank you for coming in on short notice, he continues. did you have any trouble getting inside? nothing out of the ordinary, i tell him. i think sometimes, it's harder for lawyers to get into san quentin than it is for clients to get out. it took hours to pass the two metal detectors before i was stuck in a six-by-six-foot wall covered with plexiglas. the death row visitor's area is a stone's throw from a little
let's start off with talking about "to kill a mockingbird." and what that book meant. you wrote an article about it, john. as a law professor it was something you focused on as part of legal education. how did you choose that and why? wow. i just want to say, it was wonderful seeing the actor portraying atticus finch. as i watched that i thought to myself, and i want to know what tony thinks about this, i thought there is no chance that tom robinson is going to get off. you know, that was such an ineffective appeal. now, is it a wonderful speech? it's a wonderful speech. is it beautiful? it's beautiful. is it incredibly well-written? yes. is it going to work? there's no chance.
tom robinson must have been listening to that and saying, oh, my god. you know. there's a trick that's being played on you in "to kill a mockingbird." atticus finch represents the last republican lawyer. and i mean republican in the sense of the republic, of thomas jefferson, those kinds of people. the last lawyer who really believes that to enunciate the important principles of america is going to work. this is in a town where their first reaction -- i mean, tom ewell is an incredibly evil, disgusting person. everybody in town knows that. but they believe him. you know, they're willing to take his word even though they know he's lying completely, they're willing to take his word. they're willing to go out and try to lynch tom robinson, right?
they have taken one of their upstanding citizens, bo radley, and locked him in the attic. he's been there for god knows how many years. has anybody in town done anything about it? no. lock your kids in the attic. that's the kind of town you're dealing with. as we're seeing this through the idse of scout, a child, we have -- through the eyes of scout, a child, we have to dig into it ourselves to see what's going on and once you do you realize that atticus doesn't have a chance. there's nobody to appeal to. he's going to lose. and the moral of "to kill a mockingbird" isn't that atticus finch is a great lawyer or the lawyer that we should follow. the moral of the book and the movie is that the republican lawyer won't work any more. we need a new kind of lawyer. the only way to clean up a town like this is to bring in the federales. you know, everybody's got to go
to jail. i mean, these -- you know, if you think about it, who is the real hero of "to kill a mockingbird"? who's the one who sees clearly? it's not atticus finch. he's not even a very intelligent father. i love him. i love him. but who lets your kids out in the middle of the night wearing -- dressed as farm animals and fruit when there's a craze killer who's vowed to get them? you say, fine, you don't need me to walk you home. you can do it yourself. is that -- is that smart? is that a good dad? bo radley is the one who actually has it straight, right? he knows those kids are going to get into trouble. he's out there and he does something about it. he's the one who gets justice in the book. you know, and so when you really think about it, if you can put through this wonderful
vision of the child, if you can stop looking at this problem from a child's point of view, then you'll get a new take on "to kill a mockingbird," i think. you know, one that's much more actually meaningful to you. so -- >> ok. thanks. mary. >> yeah. >> oh, great. we lost you for a minute there. >> i know. >> yeah. so tell us -- how did you choose "to kill a mockingbird" as the subject for your book and for your film? you know, what made you take this on as a project 50 years after the book was published? >> well, my adult rereading of "to kill a mockingbird" made a far greater impression on me than my adolescent reading ever had, and once that happened i started to just satisfy my own
curiousity i started to find out as much as i could about both the novel and the novelist. i was a producer at cbs news for 20 years and i was frequently pitched a story idea but my boss, you know, in the news department, my boss would say, no news, no story. and ms. harper lee hasn't given an interview since 1964, it not be the person who would change her mind. so when i started doing my own documentary, which is about -- i started it about six years ago, i read the novel again, i did a little more reporting, especially about, you know, the summer of 1960 when the novel was published. and i began to see the story i could tell was the story of the novel. not so much the novelist. and the credible impact that the novel had on the civil rights movement, on lives, on
careers and on readers to this very day. so that to me seemed to be the story worth telling and that's when i started working on the documentary. >> and sort of tell us how did you arrive at your understanding of the impact that the book has had, particularly on race relations and, you know, the -- so many people cite the book as a reason why they went to law school. why do you think that's true, particularly in light of the fact that atticus lost the case? >> well, i mean, it is true that in the research i've done many people did say that atticus finch is the reason that they went to law school. i mean, because this is a lawyer who stood up and did the right thing despite what his neighbors or his family thought. and the thing that's kind of interesting to remember about atticus is that this is set in the 1930's, not set in the
1960's, and atticus was a court-appointed attorney. and what he really did was he gave his client a vigorous defense which is -- was not expected and in fact, what's great at looking at the movie version of "to kill a mockingbird" is the jurors -- some of the jurors sitting in the jury box reading the paper because everybody figured they knew how this trial was going. you know, it tells you something sometimes about what a trial l can do, not just for the people who are on trial but for everyone who's watching it. and atticus did something that his neighbors and parts of his family didn't expect him to do. i think what's interesting about the novel is america was a deeply divided place. especially in the deep south. segregation was still not yet against the law. and particularly for white southerners, this novel, which
caught on, you know, famously and quickly, it gave white southerners a way to think about how they were raised and to think about the system in which they were raised. it did so perhaps in a way that a political speech didn't do because it was told through the eyes of a child. it was a popular story that wasn't just about race, it about growing up in a small town. it was about coming of age. it was about love. it was about lonliness. it had all the suspense. the novel had so many elements with which to draw people in. >> so the tremendous amount of -- about harper lee. i know she never wrote another book. it was a pulitzer prize-winning book, and the film won the academy award. and yet she never wrote another book. what did you learn about harper lee and her reasons? >> well, i was fortunate enough
to get great access to two very close friends of her. a new york city couple who gave their friend, harper lee, money. they remain very, very close dear friends to this day. the other person i was also very privileged and fortunate to talk to was alice finch, harper lee's older sister. alice is one of the first women in alabama who was ever admitted to the bar. she -- at 99 she's the oldest practicing attorney in the state. she continues to practice every day, and she hopes to celebrate her 100th birthday in september at her law desk. she was quite a character and told me quite a bit about how the lee girls were raised. and her answer to that question is, she quoted her sister
saying, she couldn't top what she had done. she had nowhere to go but down. and i think the combination of this kind of overwhelming thing, the somewhat autobiographical nature of what was written about and not to disappoint yourself let alone the other people out there waiting for a second book, all of that -- she writes about the fact that we don't -- that we don't get second novels from such a wonderful writer. >> thank you. and your film is opening nationwide, you're premiering in new york. we'll be looking for your film and your book is available. we have it here in the lobby. it's available on amazon. i'm going to go to paulette and go to john on this question. but, paulette, you've seen so many trials as a court -- first of all, how did you become a
courtroom sketch artist? i mean, that's not a usual profession for people, even artists, to seek. how did you get involved in it? >> just about everything in my life has been dumb luck. and i ended up in a courtroom while waiting for somebody and i've been an artist all my life and i always carry a sketchbook with me. so while i was in this trial which happened to be a good trial. most trials are incredibly boring. i was sketching and thought, i could do this. i found it exciting and i was looking for the -- the emotional moments in the trial of which this particular one, it was rich. and the lawyer said, tony sarah is drama and the law at its best. wears clunky clothes from the
thrift, goes to the podium without notes. he's incredibly hard-hitting and perceptive. he drives old clunker cars. he has long hair. he's just the opposite of everybody's image of a lawyer. and this is the person you want to draw. so that's how it came to be. >> and you spent 17 years on the book. did you follow tony's trials during that time? >> i followed tony in and out of the courtroom for about 10 years. being in tony's presence is a lot like having an overdose of x-rays or something like that. he is intense. once he sort of dumped this book on me -- it was never intended to be my book. it was supposed to be my art and his book. one day he came schlepping boxes and said, here, it's your baby,
i don't have time. and i was left crushed under the avalanche of his enormous life that was both fascinating and -- it had so many tributaries to it. i had never written a book before. i had written journals and some articles. i mean, i consider myself a visionary, and my head isn't filled with words, it's filled with pictures. but i'm capable of describing the pictures that i see. so anyway, i began this journey of a thousand miles with one step at a time, the shrapnel of his life all over my floor, and trying to put together this puzzle which became so frustrating that i kept running away from it as much as i embraced it. i finally ended up two states away to kind of get my own
perspective on things. and i now live in new mexico. which is where the book ended up being finished. in the meantime, i became a magician in las vegas and just did other things. [laughing] it was too much. so that's partially why it took 17 years. there's other reasons as well. but, you know, things take their own time. you can't get a mature wine in a week. everything just needs to have its time, too, to develop and to get its flavoring. >> before we go to tony, let me ask john. the book that you wrote was such a commentary on how we train or fail to train lawyers. you know, in the typical method that we teach in law school. that book and that story "the paper chase," what were you
saying about the way in which -- i mean, when i went to law school, the emphasis was to become a corporate lawyer. there was very little emphasis placed on being a people's lawyer. or somebody like a tony sarah. what are your thoughts on that? you've practiced. you're a law professor. recently retired. you've taught at a number of different schools. any thoughts on that? >> well, yes, i have lots of thoughts on it. i went to harvard law school. and believe me, when i was there, there was no legal aid at all. everybody was become a corporate lawyer. there was no question about it. you didn't even think about it. it would never even dawn on anybody. i don't think that anybody knew that there were defense attorneys. you know?
anyway, at its heart that little clip said something, i think, because kingsfield is actually violating the very stuff he's teaching. he's teaching contract law, which is all about reciprocity between people. and there are implicit promises when a law student comes into a classroom. you know? there are implicit promises about respect, about duties, about obligations. kingsfield is violating all of those. so he's not paying attention in the essence of his being to the most important thing that he's doing. does he know a lot of contract law? yes. he's a genius. does he understand the heart of contract law? no. he doesn't. you know? and in that same sense law school is violating the promises in a more general sense that it makes to all of its students. right? think of how crazy this method
is. just think about it. by the way, i never call on a student in my classes. and i teach contract law. got lots of students. never called on them. if they want to talk, they have to raise their hand. why? because i don't know if anybody's got anything to say. i'm not psychic. i can't tell if they can make a contribution. they're the only ones who know. so i say, have you got something to say? and miraculously they raise their hand. [laughing] isn't it incredible? you didn't have to teach it the way i was taught at harvard law school. they were all wrong. you know, it's a very interesting thing. when "the paper chase" came out, by the way -- let me digress. there was an absolute reaction from harvard law school. they said this is the most horrible book that has ever been published. how did this guy get into harvard law school? [laughing] there is some mistake.
you know, there were people who wanted to take my diploma away. anyway, in the last 35 years, though, they've mellod out. you know? they've had me back. they've given me awards. it's incredible. and why is that? is that because they've changed in mir heart? no. it's because the television program gave them so much publicity. i don't mean to be cynical. i do like harvard law school. but come on, guys. >> ok. tony, you dedicated your life to the law and to justice. and you're known to take on the most impossible cases. do you think the justice system
works? do you think it has value, at least the value that we seek to attribute to it? where we say in justice for all? >> nothing meaningful from an attorney comes from the seeded posture. it doesn't mean that anything meaningful comes from an attorney when he rises. let me share in respect to answering your question what some of the after riseles are that are circulating the concept. the lawyers sit in the hall of justice, in the hall, and they converse with their client and
other attorneys. and there's a little refrain that is often repeated. and it goes, "the only justice in the hall of justice is in the hall." so the perception is that justice is not rendered via the path of law or via the path of court. justice, as the native american says, is just us, to it the native establishment. for the native american, the white power system. for us in contemporary time, there is no justice. there is no justice in the courts. and that's sad commentary. and it's mainly predicated, from my perspective, on the swollen power